Artist Robi Walters is living proof that social mobility in the arts is possible, the will just needs to be strong enough to get you there
Paleolithic man crushed minerals to make paint, using charcoal from their fires to make black, earth for brown and yellow and rust for red. They would crush the minerals into a fine powder called pigment. Robi Waters, a rising star in the London art scene, was advised to paint every day, by Chris Offili. Embracing the advice given from the Turner Prize winner, Robi does indeed paint every day, although he has become recognised for his multimedia and collage works. Robin made his first sculpture out of unwanted trash seven years ago, when he started to think about how we as human beings consume. He riffled through the bin, pulling out an old cereal box and started cutting-up the shapes into petals. He then arranged them into an exuberant thousand petalled lotus, all constructed according to the rules of sacred geometry.
Robi wanted to see how far he could take it, the resounding metaphor and coherent through-line to his life and work. “How far can this go?” is a question he may be asking himself on the eve of his gallery opening in Soho, a space that will exist solely for him to make and show his own work, as well form the nucleus of his multiple charitable projects and ambitions. Some may say it could be considered unorthodox, foolish even to open a gallery in an area that has reached a developmental tipping point, when many artists are becoming priced out of London entirely. But then Robi would say that he would always venture off course from the trodden path.
Transforming abandoned materials such as discarded flyers, cardboard and old vinyl into works of beauty, inspired by his long-standing meditational practice, makes perfect sense in the context of Robi’s background. His early years were marked by an initial period trauma and upheaval and he found himself separated from his mother and placed in social care. When he arrived the care of a foster family, aged five, it took significant time for them to coax him out of his mute acceptance. Now joyfully reunited with his mother, who he sees every day – and in close contact with his foster family, Robi has managed to find an aesthetic that characterises who he is as an artist and as a person. He explains, “I come across many things which have been abandoned and find something more in them than their intrinsic worthlessness.”
In 2015, he was recognised as one of the top creatives in the UK by the Daily Telegraph, winning acclaim as the winner of the ‘Arts and Culture’ section. He has become quite a popular figure among the elite, creating artworks in collaboration with or for countless celerities, including Paul McCartney, Adele, Thandie Newton, Bryan Adams and more. He recently unveiled a collage piece of Usain Bolt to the man himself, which he completed six years ago when he was a struggling artist. The composition, so characteristic of Robi’s work, features Bolt’s trademark lightning move composed from thousands of tiny pieces. Robin presented it at a mutual friends’ venue and an overwhelmed Bolt asked for it to be sent to his home.
For Robi, creating art is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings. It functions as more than an escape, it – he says – keeps him sane. His objective is to create pieces which manage to straddle pop and spirituality, to tap into a deeper and quieter part of ourselves, a place of inner stillness. “Over many years of self reflection, travel, meditation, psychedelic experiences, bringing-up a family, sacred geometry I feel is what I want to do with my artwork and life. Ultimately, I think my buyers feel some kind of personal and spiritual connection with the artwork, as well as enjoying the aesthetics.” The process is deeply spiritual, driven by an overriding aim to stimulate the viewer’s imagination, as well as him own. Constructing mixed media pieces with recycled materials creating energetic explosions of colours, where most of us see rubbish, Robi sees beauty and value. This is the undercurrent of Robi’s work, as well as an overriding ambition to see just how far he and his art can go.